The Dandelion Invasion
Get out the grubbing hoe! Start up the weed-whacker! Gas up the mower! The perpetual battle against dandelions is upon us. They are in the US Atlas of Invasive Plants as well our yards!
Dandelions are a headache for all turf managers. They are an unwanted nuisance for golf-course greens keepers. Dandelions are a menace to athletic grounds supervisors who concern themselves with both turf appearance and player safety. Homeowners who dream of beautifully manicured lawns find them annoying. They form dense circular leaf mats that crowd out desirable species and reduce the vigor of those that do survive. Their texture and color deviate from that of lawn grass and the yellow flowers reduce the aesthetic quality of a pristine yard.
The extensive root systems of established dandelions mean hand-pulling or hoeing must be done repeatedly over long periods if plants are to be removed. Once they reside in turf or ornamental areas, seeds spread readily by wind and mowers, forming new plants in your yard or your neighbors’.
If that is not enough, bees are more partial to dandelions than to flowering fruit trees. And, let’s not forget that radiator motors are clogged by pappus, the feathery, parachute-like structures, that help distribute the dandelion seeds. What can be done?
Creative strategies for reducing the dandelion population may become obvious when more is known about this plant, its history and botanical parts.
Dandelions were brought to American by the Pilgrims, who believed they were medicinally beneficial for everything from tired blood to toning up internal organs. In fact, their scientific name, Taraxacum officinale means, in Latin, “the official remedy for disorders.” Eureka! Try placing a sign in your front yard inviting neighbors to pick your locally grown medicinal alternatives. That will help reduce your perennial dandelion crop.
Proper plant identification is of paramount importance. The plant’s common name, dandelion, is derived from the French “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth, that refers to their coarsely toothed leaves. These deep-green leaves are crowded in a rosette at the base of the plant. There are many leaves, each 2-8 inches long, with lobes that are slightly broader at the tips.
To seriously entice dandelion pickers, consider expanding your list of plant uses and enlarge your sign. Culinary professionals interested in fresh, healthy produce might join herbal medicine-seekers on their hands and knees to remove dandelion leaves from your invaded yard. Remind harvesters that, for maximum flavor, these culinary delights should be cut when the leaves are young, shortly after they pop out of the ground and before the flower buds appear. In this early stage, the leaves are good for salads and as cooked greens. They are credited with more food value than tomato juice or spinach due to their vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, phosphorous and protein levels. You could further expand your sign and invite weight watchers to help eradicate this pesky plant. Note the benefits of repetitious stretching and pulling as well as the herb’s low calorie count. A pound of raw dandelion greens has only 200 calories.
Chefs and winemakers likewise must be alerted to the flower-harvesting possibilities. Yes, promotional signage must be of a significant size to alert pickers to the uses of pruned flowers. The plants are a member of the Aster (Asteraceae) Family and have, as you know, bright yellow flower heads (½ to 1 ½ inches across). Each petal has five notches at its tip. Chefs sauté the flowers and add them to pancakes and waffle batter. April and May are typically the best months for picking the flowers for wine-making. It takes two to three quarts of petals to make a gallon of wine. Some property owners find the number of workers increases when a little dandelion wine is served during picking season; others report that dandelions are less troublesome following wine taste-testing.
When pickers remove the dandelion flowers, the seed dispersal system goes as well. If not harvested, the flower heads mature into spherical disks containing single-seeded fruits called achenes. Each achene is attached to a fluffy pappus that enables wind seed dispersal over long distances. Once the flowers are gathered, children will no longer be able to experience the joy of blowing on “puffballs” or “blowballs” and watching the seeds float through the air. For maximum effectiveness the dandelion-eradication billboard should encourage children to bag the puffy seed heads and suggest that the hollow flower stems be substituted for enjoyment. The stalks are very short when bearing the yellow flower heads and then as the flowers mature and the seeds appear, the stalks become much longer (up to 12 inches tall). The billboard narrative should explain how chains are made by inserting the narrower end of the flower stem into the opposite, soil-end of the stem. (This can be quite entertaining until the sticky-white substance oozes from the stem making fingers immobile.)
The removal of dandelion roots is critical if this worrisome weed is to be wiped out. Much to the delight of those burdened with dandelions, is realizing that some individuals particularly select the roots for cultivation. Dandelion roots that are dried, chopped, roasted, ground and then steeped with boiling water, make a tea that reportedly cleans the liver and kidneys, promotes digestion and serves as a diuretic. Harvesting is easiest when the soil is moist. Roots in freshly plowed fields are considerably larger than those found in residential yards. Dandelions produce strong tap roots that are capable of penetrating soil to a depth of 10 to 15 feet, but they are most commonly 6 to 18 inches deep.
On the billboard used to invite herbalists, culinary artists, weight watchers, winemakers, children and tea lovers to your property, stress that the entire plant be removed. Buds grow from the uppermost area of the root, producing a crown that can regenerate “new” plants even though the plant is cut off at or below the soil surface. Sections of the root as short as one inch in length are also capable of producing new plants.
If residential property codes do not permit the installation of a colossal billboard, viewable by interstate traffic, consider renting a blimp or a fleet of planes with banners to advertise your harvest opportunities. It takes more than a village to eradicate this invasive.